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2005 Chicago Auto Show, Part I Page 2


Caddy Debates Future After DTS

2006 Cadillac DTS

2006 Cadillac DTS

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It’s long been the nation’s best-selling luxury car, and Cadillac hopes to maintain its lock on the market with the DTS, an all-new version of the long-running DeVille. The new name underscores the changes reshaping the Caddy brand, something also echoed in the ’06 model’s more architectural shape. Though offered in only the single, DTS body style, there will be two powertrain packages, a base V-8 rated at 275 horsepower, and a more performance-oriented version of the big Northstar engine making 300 hp. The ’06 DTS will get some much-needed new technology, including a radar-guided Active Cruise Control system, as well as GM’s sophisticated MagneRide suspension. Buyers will be able to opt for any of three different suspension packages, from a relatively traditional boulevard-style ride to the feel of the more sporty DeVille Touring Sedan — which lent the new DTS its name.

While Caddy designers worked overtime to give the 2006 DTS the sort of edgy lines and creases that have won raves for the smaller CTS, the two cars might as well be from two different divisions. The “new” Cadillac is focused on rear-drive products, such as CTS and STS, delivering a taut, European-style driving experience. Even with MagneRide, the front-drive DTS keeps alive the more traditional driving dynamics of the “old” Cadillac. “They’re very different animals, and attract very different customers,” General Manager Jim Taylor explained to TheCarConnection.com. Caddy doesn’t want to simply walk away from such a large market, Taylorstressed, though he admitted there’s lots of debate about what to do with DTS in the years ahead. In its current form, the big sedan will remain around “four or five years,” at most. Then it may very well evolve to something more in line with Caddy’s new rear-drive lineup. Because of shortened development cycles, Taylor and his team have a bit of breathing room, “another year to a year-and-a-half before we decide what our move is going to be.”

Buick Back in V-8s with Lucerne

2006 Buick Lucerne

2006 Buick Lucerne

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Despite its more aggressive stance, long-time Buick fans will likely get a sense of déjà vu from the new Lucerne , the big front-drive sedan making its debut in the Windy City this week. There’s the broad, oval, “waterfall” grille, and even a line of chromed portholes, one of Buick’s most recognizable signatures. Perhaps even more significant is the optional 32-valve, DOHC, 4.6-liter V-8 under the hood, making an estimated 275 horsepower. The standard powertrain is a 195-hp version of GM’s time-tested 3800 Series III V-6. The new Lucerne is taking aim against an array of import contenders, such as Mercedes and Lexus. And like Lexus, Buick has put a premium on interior noise levels with its new QuietTuning acoustic package.

With the upcoming rollout, Buick will have completely relaunched itself since 2002, a critical step in GM’s efforts to rebuild the once powerful brand. “We are not as relevant as we should be” to current buyers, admitted new Buick general manager John Larson, “in spite of how good our products are.” The challenge, he said, will be to get the message out about Buick’s quality — which tops many of the imports — and other attributes. After killing off the Oldsmobile division, many analysts have speculated GM might next pare away Buick, at least if it can’t deliver a turnaround anytime soon. But Larson insisted that the new Buick Lucerne is “absolutely not” a last-stand effort.

Milan, Mountaineer Star at Mercury

2006 Mercury Milan

2006 Mercury Milan

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Ford Motor Co., struggling to get things in order at its own troubled Mercury division, used the Chicago show to roll out two more new products, bringing to six the number of new Mercs hitting the road in a four-year burst. The mid-size Milan is Mercury’s take on the also-new Ford Futura. In turn, they both share an underlying architecture with Mazda’s well-reviewed 6 sedan. The Milan will become the “most affordable model” in the Mercury lineup, noted Phil Martens, head of North American planning for Ford. The sedan will launch with one front-wheel-drive V-6 package, but a second, more powerful engine, along with all-wheel drive, will be added a year later.

2006 Mercury Mountaineer

2006 Mercury Mountaineer

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Along with the ’06 Milan, officials lifted the covers on the 2006 remake of Mercury’s Mountaineer. The new model has undergone some significant improvements. The rear, independent suspension has been modified to allow for an unusually flat load floor, even with three rows. The split-fold rear seats are both operated electrically. The Mountaineer gets a 292-hp, three-valve-per-cylinder, 4.6-liter V-8 producing 292 hp. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic. The SUV gets such niceties as an electrically heated front windshield, and added safety features including a new, dual-depth airbag designed to reduce the chance of injuries to small women and children. Active safety features including the AdvanceTrac stability system, and an anti-roll system.

Ford Betting Bigger on

All-Wheel Drive

Once all the powertrain options come onboard for new Ford Motor Co. models like the Milanand Futura, the automaker will be betting big on all-wheel-drive technology. In 2006, the automaker expects to produce about 400,000 AWD passenger cars, and that figure might fall short, said product development director Phil Martens. On the Five Hundred and Freestyle models, where the traction technology is already available, demand is “outstripping capacity,” Martens revealed. Over half of all Freestyles are being ordered with AWD and for the Five Hundred sedan, the figure is “in the mid-20 percent range,” Martens added. That may actually be a signal that the long-running migration from passenger cars to light trucks has peaked, the executive added. Ford research suggests that many customers would like to switch to car-based crossovers, even back to sedans. But those buyers don’t want the same cars they had in the past. They’re looking for SUV-like attributes, Martens said, such as higher seating, bigger cargo compartments — and AWD.


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